Bury the Castle

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
Unlimited happiness, boundless energy and ceaseless creativity naturally occurring in the human mind must sound like a dream come true to most people. But when this psychological cocktail causes a break with reality, chaos ensues. This is not fiction. This is the story of a real battle with mania, a struggle not against man or nature but against something within. This is bipolar disorder.

Submitted: December 16, 2011

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Submitted: December 16, 2011

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Bury the Castle

Mania: a word with a variety of interesting connotations. But unless you’ve actually experienced the real, psychological thing, you probably have no idea what it really means. Mania is, in essence, half of bipolar disorder, the other half being depression. During mania, which occurs without warning, the individual experiencing it has strong feelings of euphoria, grandiose ideas and aspirations, and a warped sense of reality. This is not a school assignment. This is real.

Of course, what is reality? This is a question most of us take for granted, save perhaps for philosophers and theoretical scientists. To most of us, reality is what we can feel, see, hear and what we believe in our minds and our hearts to be true. It is, in a sense, everything that truly matters. Losing reality is losing what makes humans secure in their place in the scheme of things, and it is a chief component of the experience of mania.

Bipolar disorder varies from person to person. There are many gray areas within mental illness, and everyone with such struggles will have a different way of describing their challenges. For this reason, what I write is going to be biased, simply because it is coming from my narrow perspective as a single person battling with bipolar 1 disorder. The 1 means that I do, in fact, feel the full extent of mania, euphoria and delusions included. The lucky ducks with bipolar 2, on the other hand, only reach what is known as hypomania, a lessened degree of mania. For your general knowledge, there is also something called a mixed state, in which the sufferer contends with depression and mania at the same time. For reasons of brevity, I will not be going into the full list of the symptoms of mania, and I will be bypassing depression altogether. If you are not familiar with bipolar disorder/depression already, you can find bucket loads of reliable information through websites such as NAMI.org. But first, there’s some inside knowledge you might be interested in finding out.

If I could describe mania in two words, I would call it a dirty trick. It sweeps you off your feet like you’re going straightaway to your own fairytale. It makes you feel special and like everyone else is sort of trapped in the frivolities of everyday life. Secret, holy plans seem to be going on, and you’re the only one aware of them. Simple things become endearingly symbolic. True love is just around the corner! It must be, or why else would you be feeling this way? Your mind blurs the way events seem to be unfolding. Before you know it, you’ve constructed a whole new way of experiencing things. You’ve practically built a castle. But it can’t last long.

These things have all happened to me. The exact details of these feelings I am hesitant to describe, because frankly, my experience with mania was one of the most beautiful times of my life, in a sense. I’d never felt better, and in this life I may never feel much better than I did during those several weeks, or at least not in the same way or for so long. After leaving my university, I can tell you that I spent hours sitting in my backyard listening to music, or writing incoherent poetry, just basking in the fact that I was outside. That’s another symptom of mania, having a greater appreciation of nature. For me, the hands-down most gorgeous thing was the sky. I recall being enraptured with clouds.

But it didn’t end there, just with what I could see. The euphoria and the extremely creative aspects of mania seeped into my beliefs and desires, too. I began to increasingly believe that my deceased brother and sister were with me, in spirit. Both of my siblings passed away in miscarriage; I don’t even really know what their genders are, but they are the only siblings I have, and since I was ten I just believed that they were a boy and a girl. I imagined that God sent them down on a mission to be with me. I’d read an allegedly true story about heaven in which God did just that. So it seemed highly logical to me at the time. And the more I thought about it, the more I literally felt like my sister was sitting right next to me, leaning in close on my right side. For some reason, my brother was not as close, but I swear to you, it was like I could feel her with me. Actually, another symptom of mania is the unnerving sensation that one can detect ghosts, even down to the age and gender. So I highly doubt my sister was actually with me. She’s probably too busy living it up.

These things that I’m telling you are the most I can bear, because the majority of my manic episode is terribly, unbearably, painfully embarrassing. Even now, I’ll be living out my ordinary existence and suddenly, some red-hot memory will come searing into my brain. Which brings me to my next topic.

So what happens when the mania ends? Because it must. It will, either on its own or with the help of my little friend lithium. Well, then, you may just find yourself holding on to your twisted thoughts with all your might. Because perhaps you spent all your extra cash while you were manic, or maybe you posted a whole crop of stupid stuff on Facebook, or maybe you were rude or indiscernible in front of your friends, or worse, people you don’t really know. The point is, the reality you find yourself waking up to is bad compared to your life before mania, and absolutely horrible in contrast to the mania itself. Because, to you, mania is reality. It was your reality. Sure, it was just in your head. But so are a lot of other things, like the names of your parents and your favorite color and where you live, and those are all true things. And anyway, how on God’s green earth could your own mind deceive you?

And so, the dream becomes a nightmare. And you’re alone to suffer the ramifications of what you’ve done. Hopefully, your family is with you. You have the doctors, and the nurses. You have the other patients in the psychiatric hospital. And yet, that isn’t enough. No one else could possibly understand what you’ve been through.

Where is God, anyway? Where was He in all of this? When I was manic, it felt like I was closer to Him, like I could really sense Him. And when I felt my sister, I was certain He sent her to look after me. But after a person who has been manic finds out the transcendent, divine feelings they had were caused by a disease, of all things, it can be very disheartening. It’s sort of like, “Okay, if that wasn’t God, then where is He?” The truth, of course, is that He was there all along.

I sort of wish there was a character in the Bible who had some sort of mental illness. I don’t just mean depression. I mean a full-on, hallucinatory, psychological mess. Then maybe, mental illness wouldn’t have such a bad stigma attached to it, and I could find something else in the Bible to relate to. Unfortunately, the only person I can think of who comes close to it would have to be that demon-possessed man that Jesus and the disciples find wandering around the tombs, and whom Jesus heals. But sometimes you just wish.

So after all of that, after you realize that you’re not a genius or the king of Prussia, just crazy, and after you’ve been in and out of the hospital and taking your lithium and Risperdol and you’ve gone into outpatient therapy, you just have to sort of bury the castle. That’s right, grab a shovel, go to that castle you built while you were manic and just bury it. And it’s going to take a deep hole, and it’s probably going to take some time. Most likely a long time. You’ll need to, in order to survive and in order to resist the temptation to go off of your lithium and back into dreamland. You’ll feel like you don’t have any answers, and like you’ve been left alone to deal with the wreckage inside your head. Hopefully, you’ll have help for the wreckage on the outside. But it’s often the hidden wounds that are the deepest. And you’ll have to take your life out of your own hands and put it into God’s. And brick by boring brick, your life is going to be rebuilt.

Fortunately, the results of my mania weren’t all bad. I had the chance to meet many interesting and strong people when I was in outpatient therapy. Some had depression, some anxiety. One friend also had bipolar disorder, and we talked about the necessity of taking the medication. At this point I hadn’t been diagnosed yet, and still wasn’t sold on the idea of taking something to alter my mood for the rest of my life. That was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had, and he really gave me a better sense of the kind of life I could have. There were many other people who were there for me, and that I got to know. I got to talking with a guy in his thirties, and made him a mix of Christian music. He’d been so pressured by his job delivering packages that he had a nervous breakdown. I loaned my Jesus Freaks: Martyrs book to a Romanian girl who had struggled with using meth. A girl who was a senior in college planned to be a dentist, and her perception of reality had gotten a little warped, like mine did. I met two people who heard voices. Every Monday and Friday we filled out a depression and anxiety scale. A 5 was good, 50, not so much. We talked about why we were doing well or poorly. The breaks were the best. Sometimes group seemed to move so slowly I felt stifled, but that may have been caused by the antipsychotics I was on. I got to know a guy from another group, thirty years old, who gave me one of the most interesting compliments I’ve ever received. When I told him people usually thought of me as shy, he said that he thought I was actually very forward. He, along with many other people, was always very friendly. During breaks we talked about our futures and our pasts. A big guy my age was trying to get a job in a fancy car dealership. Another bred black widows, and bought a shotgun to shoot himself with. I’m very glad he didn’t go through with it, because he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. We really clicked when we met. I even taught him how to whistle on a blade of grass. People inside the building thought the sound must have been either a cat or a giant bird. And how could I forget the motherly little woman who crocheted me two scarves and gave me presents? I didn’t understand her generosity, but it must just be a part of her sweet nature. No matter she’d been in the hospital.

The reason I go through the trouble of describing so many of the people in therapy is because that is where the heart of the matter lies: within the personalities and struggles of the people. Disease is not some abstract, or concrete, idea. It personifies itself in individuals in many different ways. It’s desensitizing to think about an illness without considering those that it affects.

And then, after a number of weeks, you’re out of outpatient. Normal life begins now, right? Well, depending on the amount of baggage your mania caused you, maybe not. Because now, you’ve got to figure out how to approach your non-outpatient friends. Do you just pretend like nothing happened? Or do you just point-blank tell them that you’re bipolar? If you do, what will they think? Will they think that you’re loony, round the bend, bonkers, mad, off your rocker, loopy, bananas, disturbed, crazy, insane, psycho? When you tell them you were in a psychiatric hospital, will they be shocked that you were in a loony bin, mental house, psych ward, nut house? The thing is, there are many stereotypes of mental problems out there, and your friends have probably heard a lot of them in their lifetimes. Whether they choose to apply these to you is up to them. But the trouble doesn’t end there. What about when your pastor makes jokes about being “committed” in his sermon? What about when your dad makes comments about the weight you’ve gained from taking lithium? Little things can have a surprising impact when you aren’t expecting them.

So, either you feel like you owe your friends some sort of an explanation, or you find you just can’t bring yourself to talk about it. It may be a while before you are able, and that’s okay. What you experienced was intensely personal and meaningful, and you probably don’t quite comprehend everything that went on yourself, let alone trust someone else to understand. One of the biggest struggles in my journey has been the question: How much am I to blame? Where did the mania end and my own personal desires and will begin? It’s true that when I was manic I had thoughts and feelings I’d never had before, but at the time they made sense and I often chose to express those thoughts and ideas in a variety of ways. And so I still sometimes experience a barrage of guilt and humiliation. How could I have been so stupid, so unaware, so blind to what was really happening? How can I live with the shell my life has become? In this sort of situation, if you aren’t taking something to treat your symptoms, the inevitable depression will be even more unbearable.

Over time, you’ll continue to bury the castle. Of course, you may be tempted to unearth it now and then. Stop taking your lithium to get that high you so easily had before. You may find it ironic that you have to take drugs to stop you from feeling great, when so many other people do it the other way around, legally or not. And lithium, in higher doses, can make you feel so lifeless. Like all your creative energy has been completely drained. But bipolar disorder is a disease, and as such it is best controlled with medicine. I don’t like taking it. It feels sort of shameful to have to take something just to be psychologically normal. Situations likes these call for us to be brave and strong, and put away our previous perceptions of what it means to be well.

The ending? I don’t know, because I haven’t reached it yet. There is no end to bipolar disorder, because you have it for life. When it’s under control it’s like you don’t even have it at all. But say you want to do something like become a missionary, and a few problems arise. Like, how the heck are you going to get your medicine in a remote village in the rural countryside of India? (Yes, that’s something I’ve dreamed about). Luckily, lithium is available worldwide, so there’s no excuse for you to be going off of it all willy-nilly. One last thing I’d like to share: I was roaming YouTube looking at videos people posted about their struggles with bpd, when I found a snippet of a movie about the disease that will be showing at film festivals pretty soon (I think it’s called Up/Down). The clip features a young woman describing her perception of bipolar disorder, in which she compares it to being in a boat on the ocean, by yourself. Everyone else has their own boat too, but you also are holding onto an anchor in your left hand and a kite in your right. And your job is to keep the anchor from weighing you down, but also keep the kite from flying you away. This was her metaphor for what she has experienced. I highly respect her perspective, but I would have to disagree. Because when I was depressed, it was like I was holding onto an anchor in each hand. And when I was manic, it was like I had two kites. Both times, I had no choice but to give into the feelings that were overcoming me. I was either lost to the ocean or lost to the clouds. And so, that’s what it’s like to be insane, if that’s what you want to call it. I call it life.

 

I owe the writing of this personal essay to Jesus, to my psychiatrist, and also to the song Brick by Boring Brick by Paramore.


© Copyright 2017 Seren H Sayer. All rights reserved.

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